Power to the people

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][mk_image src=”http://www.energy-exchange.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/DR.jpg” image_width=”800″ image_height=”350″ crop=”false” lightbox=”false” frame_style=”simple” target=”_self” title=”Denise Restoule is Chief of the Dokis First Nation, and led the band’s successful bid to establish the Okikendawt Hydroelectric Project.” caption_location=”outside-image” align=”left” margin_bottom=”10″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″][mk_dropcaps style=”simple-style”]I[/mk_dropcaps]f all goes according to plan, electricity will start flowing from the Okikendawt Hydroelectric Project on Ontario’s French River this March. And while the 10-megawatt run-of-river project is relatively small, it represents a huge milestone as a community-driven approach to energy resource development. So much so, it won the 2014 Pollution Probe Award, which celebrates extraordinary achievement by individuals or groups working toward positive, tangible environmental change.

Championed by the Dokis First Nation, a semi-isolated community of about 1,000 on an island in the Upper French River of northern Ontario, the Okikendawt project has been close to 30 years in the making. In 1986, Chief Martin Restoule began exploring the potential of converting one of the three dams built in the early 1900s to control water flow on the French River and to maintain water levels in nearby Lake Nipissing into a hydroelectric plant. Over the next two decades, various proposals were presented to the Dokis Nation, but all were rejected.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][mk_image src=”http://www.energy-exchange.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Okitrans-31-copy.jpg” image_width=”800″ image_height=”350″ crop=”true” lightbox=”true” frame_style=”simple” target=”_self” desc=”COURTESY DOKIS FIRST NATIONS” caption_location=”outside-image” align=”left” margin_bottom=”10″ title=”The Okikendawt Hydroelectric Project on Ontario’s French River, a milestone community-driven energy initiative.”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]In 2006, the Dokis Nation began reviewing the rejected proposals to determine why they had failed. It became evident that the Dokis community needed to be more actively involved in the decision-making process since they would ultimately live with the results. The community needed to be mindful that this new project not flood the lands or negatively impact fish habitats, traditional medicines and species at risk. The Creator gave First Nations the role of caretakers of the land, and this community wants to ensure that the project will leave very little physical impact on the community.

Recognizing that the community lacked financial resources and local expertise in hydro development, the Dokis Nation’s leaders sought approval to hire an advisor so the band council could make informed decisions in negotiating and forming a legal partnership with a developer and in communicating with government officials and financial institutions.

The band chose Chris Henderson of Lumos Energy, an organization that specializes in helping aboriginal groups “advance their clean energy interests,” to fill this role. After months of interviewing developers, the band council selected Hydromega Inc. to develop the project. Hydromega was understanding and respectful of the Dokis First Nation’s cultural and community needs.

With the development team in place, the Nation tackled the various stages of necessary approvals for the project, starting with the environmental assessment process. It was detailed and extensive to meet the requirements of a slew of government departments, including Parks Canada, Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, among others. Restructuring in some of these organizations delayed progress.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][mk_image src=”http://www.energy-exchange.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Dokis_First_Nations_Map.jpg” image_width=”600″ image_height=”300″ crop=”true” lightbox=”false” frame_style=”simple” target=”_self” caption_location=”outside-image” align=”left” margin_bottom=”10″ desc=”MAP: THOMAS HERBRETEAU/CANADIAN GEOGRAPHIC”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]Negotiating a lease agreement with Public Works and Government Services Canada for the use of the water in the artificial channel, which was blasted seven decades ago by the federal government when it built the dams, was a particularly frustrating part of the process. The government wanted “fair market value” (which resulted in an annual six-figure cost) for the area originally taken from the band for $100. Unresolved grievances with the federal government were not acknowledged or considered during the negotiations.

Another challenge: The Indian Act requires that permits and licences for such projects be reviewed by the federal Department of Justice and be signed by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. The lengthy process further delayed the project by a year and increased the costs significantly.

Nevertheless, the community has persevered, and construction of this clean energy project began in the summer of 2013. And when the electricity starts to flow as anticipated this March, the revenues generated will be used wisely for community and economic development, infrastructure, health and social improvement. It will be a long-overdue reinforcement of how this community-based energy project is empowering the Dokis people.[mk_font_icons icon=”icon-stop” size=”small” padding_horizental=”4″ padding_vertical=”4″ circle=”false” align=”none”][/vc_column_text][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″ el_class=”Story-Author”]by Denise Restoule[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][mk_padding_divider size=”40″][mk_button dimension=”three” size=”large” outline_skin=”dark” outline_active_color=”#fff” outline_hover_color=”#333333″ bg_color=”#13bdd2″ text_color=”light” icon=”moon-reading” url=”/resources/energy-exchange-magazine/issue-3/” target=”_self” align=”left” fullwidth=”true” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”15″ animation=”fade-in”]Read more stories from the Winter 2015 issue of Energy Exchange magazine[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]